Protecting Your Family Business From Cybersquatting

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Davis Wright Tremaine LLP

Using the internet proficiently is a requirement for success in today's business environment. However, there are a number of challenges to ensuring that your business's internet presence is protected. The following article explores one such concern for protecting your internet presence—cybersquatting.

What Is Cybersquatting?

Cybersquatting is the act of registering, using, or selling an internet domain name that includes another party's trademark for the purpose of profiting from that trademark. Multiple behaviors fall within the definition of cybersquatting, which requires three elements: (i) the domain name at issue is confusingly similar to the aggrieved party's trademark; (ii) the domain name owner has no rights or legitimate interests in the domain name; and (iii) the domain name was registered and is being used in bad faith. If any of these elements is missing, then cybersquatting is not present.

One common form of cybersquatting is registering domain names that include a business's name or other trademark for the sole purpose of selling those domains to that business. For example, suppose that a company named "City Seafood" has been catching and processing seafood for generations but has not felt the need to create a website. If a party noticed that City Seafood did not have a website and registered the domain "CitySeafood.com" for the sole purpose of later selling the domain to City Seafood, the registering party would be cybersquatting.

Another prevalent form of cybersquatting is registering and using a domain that incorporates another party's trademark to re-direct searchers to a website that is unaffiliated with the party that owns that trademark. For example, if a company named "National Seafood" registered the domain "CitySeafood.com" but had that domain lead to National Seafood's website rather than City Seafood's website, that too would be cybersquatting.

What to Do If Someone Has Cybersquatted on Your Trademarks

Simply put, contact a trademark lawyer. They will be able to assess the specific facts of your case. While the best way to move forward will vary from situation to situation, the lawyer will likely first recommend sending a demand letter to the offending party. The letter will notify them that they are cybersquatting and demand that the domain names be transferred to you—their rightful owner.

If the offending party does not comply with the demand letter, there are two options: (1) initiate a UDRP proceeding, or (2) file a lawsuit. The UDRP (Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Process) is a mechanism to resolve disputes over domain names through an administrative process. There are pros and cons to both UDRP proceedings and lawsuits, but the basic distinction is that UDRP proceedings are faster and cheaper while lawsuits provide more expansive remedies.

What to Do If You Are Accused of Cybersquatting

If you registered the domain name at issue in good faith, without knowledge of the accusing party, then you can be pretty comfortable you are not cybersquatting. Regardless, it makes sense to contact an attorney who can discuss the specific circumstances and help formulate a reply. Typically, these accusations can be easily resolved once all the facts are known.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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